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: Sumana has complained that my NYCB entries often turn into cranky complaining. Ironical that she should complain about this. No? Okay, false alarm.

Anyway, here's an entry with no complaining, just greatness. I do have complaints, but they're minor and for once I'll keep them to myself.

I first read about Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" stories as a teenager, in prefaces to AD&D manuals which listed the game's literary precursors. I took no interest in Vance at the time for a number of reasons, the least complaint-like of which is that when it came to old fantasy books that I couldn't find, "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser" sounded a lot cooler.

But recently I become interested in those literary precursors as precursors, and sought them out. About a week ago I started reading "The Compleat Dying Earth" and it blew me away. It's inventive and rich, refreshingly cynical, and delivers sense-of-wonder in a way I've almost exclusively associated with SF. (Technically it is SF, but it's at its best when the SF element is in the background, which is nearly all the time.)

I was especially interested in the specific influences of Vance on the mechanics of D&D. Turns out Gary Gygax wrote an essay about this, but I'd like to mention a few other things I noticed.

I knew that D&D's magic system came from Vance, but it always seemed gamelike to me and I'm amazed at how well it works in the stories. And it has the same effect as in the game: to keep magic-users from being so powerful they ruin the plot.

Ioun stones first showed up in Vance as IOUN stones, the all-caps name making them sound like a piece of advanced technology. It turns out they're not technology, but it was a nice Richard Brautigan-esque touch. It's great to see how the effects of the stones in the books were turned into game mechanics.

"Vecna" is an anagram of "Vance". I'm pretty sure I noticed this once and then forgot.

One could argue that the notion of reversible spells comes from Vance. Spells in "Dying Earth" are like computer programs, and swapping two instructions can cause a reversed effect.

Update: Oh yeah, Vance invented grues (though Infocom really fleshed out what they are).


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